Feeding the rapidly growing global population in a sustainable way is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity. The need to produce more food with fewer energy-rich inputs and with less environmental impact is driving innovation in agriculture and progress towards this goal is being catalysed by the combination of advances in agricultural science and new technologies from outside the sector. Many of these technologies are data-intensive and in some cases near-real time. The era of digital agriculture has arrived (https://www.accenture.com/gb-en/insight-accenture-digital-agriculture-solutions) and there is a clear role for ELIXIR in the support of both commercial and academic research that underpins improvements in agricultural products and practises. This is recognised in the ELIXIR Industry Strategy (https://www.elixir-europe.org/system/files/industry-strategy.pdf) which also highlights the major economic importance to the EU of the food and drink industry.
The intrinsic complexity of agricultural systems and the many organisms that interact to sustain crop and livestock production creates a particular challenge. New genome and other ‘omics datasets are being generated ever more quickly as different sectors of the research community adopt new sequencing and ‘omics technologies. For example, many research groups are focussed on using genomics to improve the productivity of primary species of agronomic importance – i.e. crops and livestock species. Others concentrate on understanding the interactions of crops and livestock with their internal biome (gut and rumen) or external biomes (soil, farmland ecosystems); while others focus on the genomics of pest and pathogen species to better understand the development of resistance to new crop protection products or to develop new agrochemical products.
Improving access to agrigenomics data therefore is an important role for ELIXIR and the UK Node is making a particular contribution in this area providing access to: genomes of farmed and domesticated animals including chicken, cow and pig; crop genome resources including wheat and brassica species and a database of experimentally verified genes involved in pathogenicity of fungal, protist and bacterial pathogens of animals, plants and fungal hosts.